Artist renderings of what a proposed Neosho Junior High School would look like if voters approve a $24 million bond issue next Tuesday are available to R-5 school district patrons.
“We tried to address it as a ‘Progress as Promised, Safe Room as Promised’ on one, and, ‘Where Do We Go From Here,’ or step-two on the next one,” explained Tim Crawley, R-5 assistant superintendent for business and finance, about two signs that have been placed in front of the current project to add a FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) Safe Room to Neosho High School.
Crawley said the banner depicting the current FEMA project shows a two-story structure that will contain 18 classrooms, serving a dual purpose of storm shelter and instructional space. He said wording provides basic information about the structure, including its size, capacity and sources of funding to address questions asked by the community.
“On the junior high,” he said, “it’s a picture divided into two. One is of the front side of the building, the other is a top-down view.”
Crawley said the images will answer a lot of questions posed by members of the community.
He said the district currently has about 700 students at the junior high level, and the new school, if approved by voters, would be constructed for an initial capacity of 850 to 900 to provide room for growth. Crawley said the building would contain 32 classrooms.
“We’ve got a two-story structure, because one thing the community was very vocal about was we need to build up and have a smaller footprint and use our space more wisely,” he said. “There’s two wings that are parallel to one another, those two are two-story, but then the end is one story and that’s because you put the rooms that would need maybe a higher roof in there, and those are your core areas like your music rooms, your band rooms, your shop rooms, some of those need higher ceilings.”
Crawley said the parallel wings could have a degree of separation by having the eighth grade on one floor and the seventh grade on another, or each of the grades could occupy a separate wing.
“Those are things that you try to leave enough versatility so that the times can help you to decide what is most appropriate,” he said.
Crawley said versatility is also a major factor in the possible future expansion of the facility, as there are two thoughts on how that might be done, which begins with plenty of land on which to grow.
“We’re building the gym space and the cafeteria space to where you could grow that,” the assistant superintendent said. “So there’s two different ways you can grow. You could add a whole third wing on there, to where it would almost look like three fingers – you’d have three parallel wings – you could add a third wing and another 400 to 500 kids, and not necessarily have to expand the cafeteria and the gymnasium. And so we’ll have that flexibility.
“But the building is designed in such a way to where you could do what they call a mirror image, and a mirror image is to where you would take something exactly like what they have now, and add on to the other end of it.”
He explained future expansion efforts may want to double capacity at that site.
“The idea really was to try to make sure that we had as much versatility built into this plan as possible,” Crawley said.
He said the building is configured for seventh and eighth grades, which would eliminate overcrowding at two other buildings.
“We would pull seventh graders from the existing middle school,” Crawley said. “By pulling the seventh grade out — one third of that population — you eliminate the need for trailers at that school and you’re going to reduce the traffic tie-ups at that school. We would also pull the eighth grade out of the high school. By pulling the eighth grade out of the high school, again you eliminate the trailers on that site, and you also are able to limit some of the traffic on the Boulevard.”
Crawley noted that seventh and eighth grade students have some of the highest rates of those who are transported to and from school by their parents, so parent traffic will be greatly reduced at those two schools.
Crawley said prints of the design of the proposed junior high school have been produced, and he is getting those distributed to various retail outlets in these days before the elections to provide patrons another opportunity to see them before voting.
He said the design is the culmination of a two-year process, which kicked off with community meetings and community surveys to gauge the needs according to the community.
“The overwhelming idea was that we needed to get the eighth grade out of the high school, and get the seventh grade out of the middle school, those were the two overwhelming things.”
Once a junior high was established as the need, he said the next question asked of the community was, “What can we afford?” Crawley said officials determined they could afford to move two grade levels by building for about 800 to 900 students. He noted the community groups were overwhelmingly for a junior high, and added that an earlier issue for fifth and sixth grades had failed.
“Overwhelmingly when we would go to people and say, ‘Why did that fail?’ They would say, ‘Because you don’t need a 5/6 building, you need a 7/8, you need something that will meet their needs,’” he said. “Our current middle school is built for fifth and sixth grades, but it doesn’t work for seven and eight. And so, that was what the community told us in those meetings.”
Crawley said he tried to combat the concern that not a large enough segment of the community was providing input by inviting public comment through social media in addition to print and broadcast, and the response continued to focus on the need for a building to house the seventh and eighth grades.
He said there was some interest in building a new high school, but explained that the cost of such a project is excessive at this time, as a high school facility would cost more than $50 million to construct, and the district only has a bonding capacity to borrow up to about $34 million. Others wanted to add onto the elementaries to make them K-5 buildings and make the middle school sixth through eighth, but Crawley said some of the elementary schools don’t have the room to do add-ons for a whole grade level.
“The junior high made the most sense, he said. “It was the one that had the most favorable public opinion at the time. It fit into the budgetary constraints that we had of what we thought from all of our phone surveys and our survey monkeys of the amount that people said they would vote for as far as an increased levy. All of that together kind of got us to where we are at.”
Crawley hopes patrons will get out to vote on Aug. 5, because they certainly notice the need.
“The people of Neosho, they love their school, they support their school and they favor their school, but they don’t always have all the information,” he said.
He encourages phone calls from patrons with any questions on the bond issue in these final days.
“If we’re missing something, if we need to share something, then we need to do that.” Crawley noted, “I think everybody knows that we need to grow, we need to deal with our growth issues, it’s just everyone agreeing to the best way, so that’s where we are at.”
He said the plan is an effort to address a number of school district needs.
“I feel like we’ve got one opportunity to impress upon the community that you’ve got some new leadership here for the school, you’ve got a fairly new board, and we’re here to do what’s best for the school, and we’ve got one opportunity to earn that trust and earn that support, and so we’ve put ourselves behind this plan because we believe it’s the best,” Crawley said.
He said a similar issue in April did not pass, it gained a majority of support but not the supermajority of 57.14 percent necessary for approval.
“We didn’t change the plan, because we knew the plan was solid. We knew that we had spent a lot of time – two years of research and development to get to that and a lot of community support – so we feel like it is the right plan. If they fail it this time, yeah, we’re probably going to have to start from scratch,” he said.
He stated that if the measure is not approved next week, the school board and administration will need to begin conducting new meetings with the community to find out, “What failed? What did we do wrong?”
Crawley realizes the current economic environment makes it hard to pass any type of tax issue, but said the cost of this measure would amount to about $45 annually in increased tax load for the average home in the school district.